Thursday, January 31, 2013

Poetry Friday, Tea with Monkey, and Seasons...

Howdy, Campers! Welcome to Poetry Friday at TeachingAuthors!

Please add your link to Mr. Linky below and then say a bit about your poetry post in our comments.
Thank you kindly.

Now, pull up a comfy chair and have a cuppa tea with me.

Monkey is having a cup of tea...

...and reading poetry.  Join him. 

We TeachingAuthors have been discussing our writing routines...or lack of them.  Carmela kicked it off, posting about being "writerly" even without a regular writing routine.   Mary Ann talks frankly about an untidy schedule while she's the caregiver of two family members (I can relate!); Jill wonders if routine can save the day (and shows us the quilt she made), and Jeanne Marie knows exactly what will fall by the wayside so that her writing gets done.  In between, both Jeanne Marie and Esther posted Wednesday Writing Workouts, a new TeachingAuthor feature.

For me, writing routines are seasonal--as in the seasons in one's life.  The routines I stick to in this season of my life (sans kid, with a husband who works many hours) are: 1) romp the dog twice a day, 2) exercise, and 3) write a poem a day.  I send my best friend Bruce Balan an original poem each day and he sends one of his back.  (Last night his poem informed me that as of December 26th I had written 1000 poems!)

I just finished working on a nine-month political campaign; it was wonderful having one purpose, one thing to strive for.  And when my husband was in the hospital in November, that, too, gave me a single purpose.  But right now, I am teaching, writing, critiquing, taking care of 92-year-old Uncle Davie.

Despite my routines, I'm in the hallway of unopened doors...
by April Halprin Wayland

In this hall of fear and doubt,
open a door and let me out.

Hear that eerie violin?
Unlock a door and bring me in!

Spirit, goddess, hear my prayer
any door will do, I swear!

What? A door at hallway's end
opens, through it sunlight bends?

I am running to escape
thank you for the door-sized gape!

Whoa! This place is way too squarish…
might I view a room less garish?

poem(c)April Halprin Wayland. All rights reserved.

In which season of life are you?
What?  No more tea?  
No, Monkey, but luckily there's more Poetry below...
I'm visiting as many of our wonderful kidlitosphere poets as I possibly can (starting right below these three lines), but please also check the Mr. Linky links far, far below AND the comments to see who's posted what...
Renee Latulippe is the first one in with a catnap poem for two voices, reminding me of this form and encouraging, instructing and inspiring us to write more!

Charles Ghigna--aka Father Goose--is in with Valentine Poems, teaching us how to write his four-line If You Were poems.  Charles also links to a comic book, and his book of love poems for adults!

Jama of Alphabet Soup jumps in celebrating Langston Hughes' 111th birthday (happy birthday, LH--let the rain kiss you ~) with poems (including, appropriately enough for Jama, Hughes' poem titled, "Dinner Guest: Me") and foodie tidbits, of course!

Laura Shovan's post at Author Amok unveils the Academy of American Poets' 2013 postcard-themed National Poetry Month poster and shares a kitten-and-hot-pink-gloves poem based on a postcard--(I love her comment about Poetry Friday's icon: "Army green is so last year, but Poetry Friday is always in style.")
Catherine Johnson's in with her poem, "Anne of Green Gables meets Lady Shalott"...I love her line,
"hair spilling over like seaweed"
Laura Salas shares an elf poem translated from the Danish.  I wish I'd imagined this itty bitty man and his pockets packed with mice!  Laura also, as always, challenges us to write a 15 Words or Less poem, this one about her photo of a glass ceiling.
Diane Mayr, of Random Noodling joins in with a link to an article by author Anita Diamant, about Richard Blanco's poem for the inauguration and how our poetry and our times have and have not changed (note this quote about poetry by Anita Diamant);  Diane also offers us two short videos of a Richard Blanco interview--what riches!
Diane, in her other guise as Kurious Kitty, recently read an article on memorizing poetry, which reminded her of the poem she memorized long ago: Rudyard Kipling's "If".  I particularly love these lines: "If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster/And treat those two impostors just the same"...
Feeling a little lonely or the need to get away and BE alone?  Check out these snippets of poems on solitude at the Write Sisters' blog.
And...oh, my goodness...I completely forgot about Groundhog's Day!  Luckily, Amy, aka Mrs. Merrill, reminds us with this Groundhog's Day Poem ~
Violet Nesdoly's in with an original fog poem and photo...I love when she says fog finally "weakens under/distant globe/like consciousness/after a coma/colour seeps back/into earth-corpse..."
Dash over to Robyn Hood Black's blog for the metaphor of doors and books and see her glorious collage of a book-door! 
Tamera Will Wissinger, like Laura Shovan, loves the Academy of American Poet's poster for National Poetry Month and has an interesting interpretation of its design.
Joy Acey teaches us how to write a Minute Poem, and then shares her own, "Moon Minute" (try writing your own Minute Poem--I did)...

...and Matt Forrest shares an original mud pies poem (yum!)

At Supratentorial (look up the definition--I did), Alice and her kids are reading and memorizing poems about colors from the classic, Hailstones and Halibut Bones
At Fuse #8, Elizabeth Bird reviews Jack Prelutsky's Stardines Swim High Across the Sky and Other Poems.  Jack once again smashes two words together to come up with new animals; illustrator Carin Berger's shadow box pictures are out of this world (stay for the 2:09 minute video tour of Carin's studio). 
Tara, at a Teaching Life also writes about memorizing poems, sharing a 2:59 NPR story about "Poetry by Heart" in the U.K, a poem she memorized in fourth grade, and Alfred, Lord Tennyson himself saying his poem.
Our dear Linda at TeacherDance helps us say good-bye to January with Wallace Stevens' "The Snow Man".

Margaret, of Reflections on the Teche opens pages of the new edition of The Mysteries of Harris Burdick and the ensuing discussion triggers students' idiom poems.
Fats Suela from Gathering Books shares one of the amazing reverso poems from Marilyn Singer's Cybil-award winning book, Mirror, Mirror.  Have you ever tried to write a reverso?  SO HARD!!! 
Amy at The Poem Farm has written a wonderful poem about meeting someone who you feel so connected to it's as if you've known them for years.  And she has great news regarding Mr. J. Patrick Lewis and her soon-to-be-published book, FOREST HAS A SONG--woo-woo! 
Greg Pincus of GottaBook is in, of course.  He's always concise and always he ties us in knots!
And M.M. Socks (aka Alvaro Salinas Jr.) has the hiccups in his post's poem.
Tabatha Yeatts on her perch at The Opposite of Indifference shares five short Richard Brautigan poems; some are mind-blowing...
Mary Lee, at A Year of Reading, shares a wonderfully concise poem about getting into a writing rut or losing one's focus.
Doraine Bennet, at Dori Reads shares an incredibly personal original poem about a stillborn child.  Sharing grief--or any difficult emotion--is an act of generosity.
Katya at Write. Sketch. Repeat. shares Robert Service's "The Shooting of Dan McGrew" which she recites around the fire on camping trips.  I'd heard of it but never read it all the way through. Thanks, Katya!
Bridget Magee at wee words for wee ones posts an original poem a day.  For Poetry Friday she writes about that song that will not stop singing in your head.  Yes, that one.
Liz Steinglass, who also writes a poem a day, shares two original silly poems, "The Sparrow at the Store" and "The Secret of the Cat."
Andromeda Jazmon Sibley, of wrung sponge, reviews Joyce Carol Thomas' new book, The Land of Milk and Honey
Steve Peterson at inside the dog considers, in his original poem, the testing his 8 and 9-year old students are facing and isn't sure whether to accept it or not...
Bright light in our poetry universe, Sylvia Vardell always has good news at Poetry for Children ...
...while Sylvia teams with author/poet Janet Wong in their Poetry Friday Anthology blog--a poem a week is all they ask!
Little Willow offers a poem from The Australian Girl ...
...while Ed DeCaria at Think, Kid, Think! is calling all classrooms to pick words with which to torture the participating poets in March Madness.  (The application deadline for poets has passed.)
Lorie Ann Grover gives us a brother and sister haiku.  Why not try writing your own?
MsMac at Check it Out writes a tender poem about when to say good-bye to her old dog, inspired by a William Stafford poem.
Janet Squires' posts at All About the Books are short and to the point.  Wish I had that skill!
Kort's family at One Deep Drawer has good news: baby #3!  She posts (HOW CAN SHE POST?!?! SHE JUST HAD A BABY!!!) a poem by Christina Rossetti and photos of her three chicks...congrats, Kort!


Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Wednesday Writing Workout: Reading Is Writing

I just returned from teaching my first class of the semester and told my students, as I always do, "reading is writing."  I'm not sure they believe me, but it's probably the most important piece of advice (besides "butt in chair") that I'll give them all semester.

Given the flurry of exciting awards news in children's publishing this week, many of us will be applying this advice to the list of ALA Youth Media Award-winning books.

I'm planning to start with Three Times Lucky, by Sheila Turnage, which has been sitting on my Kindle for many months.  How about you?

Happy reading!  --Jeanne Marie

Sunday, January 27, 2013

Flex Time

I come from a family of hyperorganized people.  My mom makes lists of the lists she plans to make.  My dad once had me file years' worth of my grandmother's utility bills by date -- on the .00001% chance that we might need to refer to one of them someday.  After years of such an upbringing, I vowed never to be an iota more organized than I needed to be.  The upshot has been that I am usually slightly (okay, often more than slightly) less so. 

I write things on the calendar, but I neglect to look at the calendar.  I often find myself scrambling for childcare because of a forgotten teacher work day; sometimes I confess that I avoid looking ahead because I just don't want to know what terrible scheduling conflict awaits.

There are the planned interruptions to one's writerly day: teaching, laundry, oil changes, dance class, piano lessons, date nights with my husband.There are the unplanned ones: parent in the hospital, dead battery, kid with the flu or a broken shoe or a forgotten lunch or a snow delay that happens to coincide with a class I am teaching that is not, of course, likewise delayed. 

One of my greatest assets as a teacher, if I do say so myself, is my flexibility.  It is also one of my greatest failings.  I know what I need to accomplish in a given week: Get my kids to school and wherever they need to be -- fed, clothed, reasonably clean; make it to class with some semblance of preparedness; grade papers in a relatively timely fashion; and turn in my script so that I can receive a paycheck.  There are many other things that I aspire to do; but sadly, I am fairly satisfied to accomplish the bare minimum.

Needless to say, I do not have a writing schedule; but I do have daily goals in order to be able to churn out a 6500-word script (or two) each week.  If I have a week laden with commitments or a difficult show or an unexpected roadblock, I know what will fall by the wayside so that my writing work gets done:
#1 My own writing
#2 Exercise
#3 Housework/laundry/dishes (and my standards are very low already)
#4 Sleep

Perhaps my priorities need adjustment, but it is what it is.  Apart from the neglect of items #1-4 (above), I think my system works fairly well for me right now.  If I planned to be locked into a particular schedule, given the daily interruptions in my life, I suspect I might have a nervous breakdown.  For example, I have had a productive writing week but have not yet gotten around to trying Carmela's awesome timer trick. But that's okay, right?  There's always next week.    -- Jeanne Marie

Friday, January 25, 2013

Can routine save the day?

Today I'm supposed to write about how sticking to a writing routine can save the day. Or not. That ties in perfectly to my January 4th post, in which I vowed to set a writing schedule for myself in an effort to find my way back into a middle grade novel project. I'd like to shout, "Yes! A schedule was exactly what I needed! I'm well into Chapter 5! Hallelujah!" That would be inspirational, wouldn't it? It would also be untrue.

For the first time in my writing life (16 years), I entered a new year feeling overwhelmed by the number of projects awaiting my attention. Hmm. Could I work on the novel for two hours per day, fitting other writing in around it? No. Turns out that, like Mary Ann, scheduled writing time makes me itchy. Plus, I'm much happier and more productive when focusing on one project at a time.

For a few weeks there, I just avoided my office. That led to many late-night struggles with monkey mind - our pastor's apt description for when you can't sleep because your thoughts keep jumping from one problem to another. Especially worrisome were three picture book projects editors were waiting for (no rush, but still). Throw in the same real life chores/business/family stuff we all deal with and you have enough stress to set anybody's teeth to grinding.

What finally worked to get me back on track was my old friend, list making. Prioritizing. And, hold the phone...what was that hovering down there at #6? Yep, the novel. So I've put it aside and begun chipping away at those projects higher on the list. And I've seen actual results.
                    1) A nonfiction picture book proposal is almost ready to go out the door.
                    2) A fiction pb has been tweaked per an editor's suggestions.
                    3) My messy pile of writing-related receipts stuffed into a drawer and ignored through most of 2012, otherwise known as "important stuff my husband's  going to ask for any minute while he gets tax info together," is now collated and  duly recorded and in perfect order. (He may faint.)

And I'm feeling much, much better about the situation. As are my jaws.

Routine has saved the day, at least in part. I spend most mornings in my office, chipping away at that list. For me, though, balance is imperative. So I opened another creative outlet. Months ago, I picked out fabric* for a quilt I wanted to make. I finally sketched a design, calculated the pieces I'd need, and got to work. Piecing a quilt, unlike writing, lets me see results quickly. I think - no, I know - that those afternoons in my basement sewing studio have been therapeutic.

                                                       *the centers of the squares look black in this pic, but they are 
                                                         actually a dark coffee brown.

And, #6? Don't worry, I see you down there. Hang tight. I'm on my way.

Jill Esbaum

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Mystery Guest Wednesday Writing Workout: Five Tips for Tightening Your Manuscript

Today’s Wednesday Writing Workout comes to you courtesy of an award-winning author whose talent, pluck and love define her.  Her titles include the tween novels Julia’s Kitchen and Jemma Hartman, Camper Extraordinaire (both Farrar, Straus & Giroux). Her newest book, The Yuckiest, Stinkiest Best Valentine Ever (Dial), tells the story of Leon who’s hopelessly in love with Zoey Maloney. But the valentine he creates for her wants nothing to do with Leon’s mushy sentiments. The valentine thinks this holiday is all about candy, and he runs away rather than suffer the embarrassment of saying "I love you." As Leon follows the valentine through town, boys, girls, and teens join the chase and chime in on their perspectives of love until finally, the conflict comes to a heart-pounding, sweaty-palm conclusion in of all places – a candy shop.  Our Mystery Guest lives in Deerfield, Illinois, sharing her days, nights and writing time with her husband and three teenagers.

Have you identified our Mystery Guest Author yet?  She’s a true Student Success Story!
The Wednesday Writing Workout:  Five Tips for Tightening Your Manuscript

Once you’ve finished your manuscript and revised the story so that the characters are authentic, the setting comes to life, and the plot makes sense and is filled with tension, before you submit it to an editor or agent, you should turn to the writing itself and see how you can make it tighter and more effective. Here are a few tricks I’ve learned over the years. Give them a try:

1.       Circle all your verbs. Make sure each one is powerful and specific. Then delete as many adverbs as possible. If you’ve chosen the best verbs, you won’t need them anyway.

2.      Look for rhetorical questions in your manuscript and delete them. Chances are you don’t need them and they’re slowing your story down. In the rare event that you do need them, change the question to a direct sentence. And in the even rarer case that you absolutely must have a rhetorical question, keep it. Just be conscious about it.

3.      Watch out for word echoes. Don’t use the same word more than once on the same page or even on consecutive pages.

4.      Read the first and last sentence of each chapter and make sure you are varying them and starting and finishing with a bang.

5.      Find twenty words to cut on each page. I promise, you won’t miss them.

Why bother with all this cutting and tightening? Simply put, it makes for a better reading experience, and that’s the whole point.

                                                                     * * * * * * *
So, in the wild chance you didn’t identify Brenda Ferber, click here to read my last week’s January 14 Student Success Story Interview with this award-winning author.

Click here to learn more about her newest book – The Yuckiest, Stinkiest Best Valentine Ever.

And, finally, congratulations, Karen Casale of Connecticut, this week's TeachingAuthor Book Giveaway Winner!  You won an autographed copy of Brenda’s newest book.

Thank you, Brenda, from the bottoms of our TeachingAuthors’ hearts, for sharing yourself, your Writing Life, a copy of your book – and – today’s Wednesday Writing Workout with our TeachingAuthors readers, writers and teachers.

Esther Hershenhorn

Monday, January 21, 2013

Who, Me? Schedule?

     My good friend Carmela wrote such a lovely post on the subject of writing routine last Friday that there really isn't much left for me to say.

     Like Carmela, I am the caregiver for two family members. I know any number of writers who tote their laptops to bedsides and waiting rooms and are perfectly productive.  I am not one of those people. I am unable to isolate myself emotionally from the situation. I cannot write while I am worrying about finances and medication and contingency plans, should I not be available.

     In his autobiography, Rewrites, playwright Neil Simon writes for months and months with his wife dying of cancer in the next room. Simon describes his ability to enter another world peopled only with characters of his own invention, a world where no one was dying of cancer. I wish Mr. Simon could tell me how he so neatly compartmentalized his life.  It would be a valuable skill. But alas, he does not.I have been able to "write through" short term illnesses and crisis before. However, my situation for the past year has been one of ongoing issues and worries with no end in sight.

     Upshot...I am too emotionally wrung out to write with any depth. I can edit, teach, research, even write blogs (although not as well as I would like to.) Trying to create something new takes heart and soul that I do not have on hand at the moment.

    OK, back to the subject of routine/schedule, etc. Even when I am firing on all cylinders, the word "schedule" makes my skin crawl. I was raised in a home where every day of the week had a particular function (Wash Day, Baking Day, Shopping Day, Yard Work Day) and every hour was accounted for before the day began.  Whether I was wired differently from my parents or just a rebellious kid, I did not take well to all that regimentation. I grew up to be a person who wrote term papers in two days (hey, anybody can write a good paper if you have a whole semester!) and mailed my tax returns at 11:59 p.m. April 15th.

    I am a militant night owl. Left to my won devices, I would happily work graveyard shift. I loved being a school librarian, except that I had to be at school by 7;30, after a 40 mile drive.  Add becoming a mother to my disorderly life, and one of two things happen. You either stop writing, or you write when you can.

    I write when I can. Until this past year, I was pretty proud of my ability to write in ten minute chunks, wherever I happened to be. In the carpool line at school.  On commuter trains. During boring sermons. Wherever. A good chunk of my day was spent at the skating rink, as my figure-skating daughter skated upwards of 20 hours a week.

    I know there are writers who manage to carve out consecutive BIC hours (Butt in Chair) to stare at a blank computer screen, waiting for the Muse to arrive. I envy you. Even when my life unknots itself  and I regain my full creative energy again (someday), I don't anticipate tidy "office hours" or outlines or schedules.

    That's just the way I roll.

    Don't forget to sign up for our latest giveaway, a copy of Brenda Ferber's The Yuckiest, Stinkiest, Best Valentine Ever. Check Esther's last post for details.

    Posted by Mary Ann Rodman


Friday, January 18, 2013

Being "Writerly" Even Without a Regular Writing Routine

Happy Poetry Friday! To celebrate my inaugural post in this, my new Friday slot, I've included a poem at the end of today's blog post. You'll find a link to today's Poetry Friday round-up there, too.

First, though, I need to talk about our next TeachingAuthors topic. Jill, Jeanne Marie, and April started the year by discussing ways to "get back into the writing groove" after being away from it for awhile. As a follow-up, today I was supposed to talk about the pros and cons of having a writing routine.  By "Writing Routine," I mean a specific, preplanned time set aside for writing and/or writing-related tasks, such as research.

I figured this topic would be a no-brainer for me. I thrive on having a regular routine. Last fall, I blogged about my "typical" writing day: how I try to get up around 6-6:30 in the morning and start working as soon after breakfast as possible, without checking email or Facebook. And how, since I have a hard time resisting email, I set a timer and don't allow myself to look at email until I've put in 2-4 hours of work. [By the way, my favorite timer is online, at the Mindfulness Bell site.  You can use the site to set a chime that sounds periodically, for example, every 15 minutes (perhaps to remind yourself to blink while staring at the screen), or you can set the chime for a specific time by using the "reminder" option at the bottom of the page.]

As luck would have it, though, I'm currently unable to follow my normal writing routine. Instead, I'm helping my husband care for his 87-year-old father, who is staying with us while he recovers from pneumonia. I'm still setting timers, but now they're to remind me to give Dad one of his meds, or to wake him from a nap so he can get ready for his therapy appointment. I love my father-in-law dearly, and I'm happy to be able to help him this way. Now that he's starting to feel better, I'm hoping to get back into some sort of writing routine again soon. Meanwhile, I've been stealing moments to catch up on some reading, and to participate in the Annual Blog Comment Challenge. The challenge is a great way to discover new blogs, and it's not too late to sign up, if you're interested

I'm also beginning to realize that poems are something I can write in small snatches of time. Actually, I was inspired by something Dad said the other day to scribble a few lines. Thanks to April's brave example of sharing her poems-in-progress, I'm sharing the following poem with all of you even though it's far from polished. I hope you'll be as kind to me in your comments as you've been to April. :-)

Before sharing my poem, I want to remind you to read Esther's Student Success Story interview with Brenda Ferber. You're sure to be inspired by Brenda's persistence, despite 70 rejections!, to finally sell her wonderful picture book, The Yuckiest, Stinkiest, Best Valentine Ever (Dial). And be sure to enter for a chance to win your own autographed copy.

Okay, I won't put it off any longer. Here's my poem. As I mentioned, it was inspired by my father-in-law, who has been a widower for a little over a year. I had noticed he often stared off into space, and I feared he was beginning to lose his faculties. Then, out of the blue, he explained that he sometimes missed out on parts of the conversation because he was actually deep in reverie.

          Daydream Rememberings

          I miss what you say
          because I'm daydreaming,
          remembering happy times
          with Ramona.
          Our long bike rides,
          camping trips all over the country,
          ballroom dancing in matching outfits.

          Fifty-seven years of memories.
          I miss my wife.
poem ©2013 Carmela Martino. All rights reserved

For more poems, check out the Poetry Friday Roundup at Violet Nesdoly/poems.

Got to go now. My chime just went off. Time to get Dad up from his nap. Maybe Mary Ann will talk about the pros/cons of writing routines when she posts on Monday. :-) Meanwhile, you can find some tips on developing your own routine in this post at poetryNprogress.

Happy Writing!

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Memory Poet-Tree: a Wednesday Writing Workout

Howdy Campers! Welcome to...
My mother says that everyone remembers the trees of their childhood.

I recently attended the annual FOCAL (Friends of Children and Literature) Luncheon hosted by the Los Angeles Public Library Children's Literature Department. Each year, FOCAL gives an award to an outstanding children's book with California content.  This year's award deservedly went to my friend Joanne Rocklin for her wonderful book, One Day and One Amazing Morning on Orange Street (Abrams).

This book bubbles over with the voice of middle graders.  It's a wonderful and truly amazing work, as the avalanche of great reviews and awards attests.

Joanne's acceptance speech was thoroughly Joanne: full of enthusiasm, aware of her audience, bursting with love.

I had such a great time, I bought one of the centerpieces, made by
Ray Moszkowicz's art students at Palms Middle School:
 Each detail of this inspired centerpiece references her book.

Joanne's memories of her beloved orange trees inspired my poem that day (I write a poem a day); I thought perhaps a memory of a tree in your life might inspire you, too.

I wrote about our Meyer Lemon tree and how incredibly generous it is.  See for yourself:

I want to share my lemon tree poem with you...but here's my dilemma: dozens of my poems have been published in poetry anthologies...but recent contracts specify that poems can never have been published--even on a blog.  ACK!

But wait! I see that I've blogged on this topic before... so let's use a poem I've posted previously:

by April Halprin Wayland

I sit under this tree
to sit under this tree.

Not to win anything.
Just me and tree.

If the wind happens to drop
a sweet plum in my lap, though,

I would never say no
to a plum.
poem © 2013 April Halprin Wayland. All rights reserved
Now it's your turn. 
1) Close your eyes. Think of a tree from your childhood...or any tree of significance to you.
2) List details of that tree that cover all five senses, or write snippets of your memories of the tree.
3) Or you may want to simply plunge in, and see what memories sprout from your pen or keyboard.
4) Consider putting your poem (or was it a story that emerged?) into a form...or not.
5) Consider sending your poem to someone who would remember that tree.
6) Leave a comment about this exercise.  :-)

Don't forget to enter to enter our Book Giveaway to win
Brenda Ferber's Valentine's Day picture book,  
The Yuckiest, Stinkiest, Best Valentine Ever (Dial)
 All the details are in Esther's post below. 

And thanks for coming to today's Wednesday Writing Workout!

poem and lemon tree photo © 2013 April Halprin Wayland. All rights reserved

Monday, January 14, 2013

Talent, Pluck and Love, Oh, My! PLUS a Book Giveaway for Valentine's Day!

What a pleasure to introduce our readers to the talented and determined award-winning author Brenda Ferber, my unforgettable Ragdale Picture Book Workshop student, and her newest book, the picture book The Yuckiest, Stinkiest, Best Valentine Ever (Dial). 

Brenda’s original story, lively writing, Positive Mental Attitude and incredible open-mindedness marked her as The Real Thing; she soaked me up and wrung me out as if I were a sponge.  I knew her moxie and PMA would help her keep the Faith and I was right: The Yuckiest, Stinkiest, Best Valentine Ever collected around 70 rejections!

(Note: that particular Ragdale Workshop’s roster boasts three published children’s book creators (one an illustrator), two MFA in Writing for Children holders and two oh, so close pre-published writers.)

Brenda is the author of tween novels Julia’s Kitchen and Jemma Hartman, Camper Extraordinaire (both Farrar, Straus & Giroux).   Her newest book tells the story of Leon who’s hopelessly in love with Zoey Maloney.  But the valentine he creates for her wants nothing to do with Leon’s mushy sentiments. The valentine thinks this holiday is all about candy, and he runs away rather than suffer the embarrassment of saying "I love you." As Leon follows the valentine through town, boys, girls, and teens join the chase and chime in on their perspectives of love until finally, the conflict comes to a heart-pounding, sweaty-palm conclusion in of all places – a candy shop. 

Brenda’s website offers a free (totally adorable) downloadable activity kit to go along with the book.

Check out her invitation to join her in celebrating the book’s release by participating in a Random Act of Kindness and Love by February 14.

Finally, be sure to read how YOU can win your very own autographed copy of The Yuckiest, Stinkiest, Best Valentine Ever in the Book Giveaway that follows the interview.

Enjoy and learn from one of our Children’s Book World’s Bests!

Esther Hershenhorn

                                                  * * * * * * * 

What inspired you to sign up for my 2004 Spring Picture Book Workshop at Ragdale?
I had written what I thought was a picture book manuscript that was receiving its share of rejections, so I knew I wanted someone with a great critical eye to tell me what I could do to revise it. I learned a ton from your workshop, and I ended up deciding that what I had written was not actually a picture book but rather a short story. It didn’t quite have that re-readability factor, and there weren’t enough different moments to illustrate. I could have revised it to try to make it more “picture booky,” but instead, I decided to send it to Ladybug magazine, and they bought it! That story, “A Cheer for Charlie,” was the first thing I ever published.

Do you recall any specific ways the class helped you?
I remember you telling us to study a picture book thoroughly, not just the words and pictures, but also the end papers, the flap copy, everything. Since then, I always look at the Library of Congress description on the copyright page, I always check out the author and illustrator bios, I always read the flap copy, and I always take note of end papers. Not only do beautiful endpapers (as opposed to just a solid sheet of color) indicate that the publisher has put extra care into the book, but they also set the reader up for what’s inside. I have to say that I was so pleased with the end papers for The Yuckiest, Stinkiest, Best Valentine Ever. The candy hearts set the perfect tone for what’s to come when you turn the page.

You eventually went on to publish, but first the middle grade novel, Julia’s Kitchen (FSG), which won the Sydney Taylor Book Award for Older Readers , then Jemma Hartman, Camper Extraordinare (Farrar Straus & Giroux).  Why and how did you move from writing picture books to writing middle grade fiction?
The truth is, I always wanted to write children’s novels, but I thought that picture books would be easier. Silly me! I had this crazy fantasy that I’d whip out a few picture books, develop a relationship with an editor, and then easily write and sell novels. Not one part of that fantasy was accurate! First of all, writing picture books is way harder than writing novels (for me anyway), and even though I wrote this picture book before I wrote my novel, I wasn’t able to sell it until after I had sold two novels, and even then it wasn’t to the same editor. Second of all, no matter how many books I write and sell, it never gets any easier. But I have to admit, I wouldn’t have it any other way. I love the challenge.

The Yuckiest, Stinkiest, Best Valentine Ever has remained in your heart despite years of rejection.  What kept you on task and what kept you believing, in this story as well as in yourself as a picture book writer?
Yes, I collected around 70 rejection letters over the course of five years for this book! The thing that kept me believing in this particular story was that I truly loved it, and I could imagine it finding a large audience. Right after college, I worked at the Leo Burnett advertising agency, and I learned there the importance of Big Ideas – specifically how to recognize when you have one and when you don’t. I believed Yuckiest Stinkiest was a Big Idea, and I knew I just had to find the right editor to see it that way. Happily, Kathy Dawson ended up being that person! Meanwhile, two things kept me believing in myself as a writer while collecting all those rejection letters. First, I’m sort of insanely optimistic, and I saw each rejection as getting one step closer to acceptance. Second, I absolutely love to revise, and I used any and all personal comments on the rejection letters as fuel for my revision. Just about everything except the initial concept changed in those five years, and the story is so much richer, funnier, and heartfelt, thanks to rejection.

You’re not only a Student Success Story – you’re a Teacher Success Story!  What insights that you gleaned from the learning process do you make sure you share with your learning writers?
When I was revising my first novel, Julia’s Kitchen, with my wonderful editor at FSG (Beverly Reingold), I learned the most important thing I’ve ever learned as a writer, and I try to pass that on to every student I have the privilege of coaching: Be authentic. It sounds simple, but it’s not. You’re making up a story. It’s pretend. But when a reader comes to it, it has to be 100% truthful, 100% believable. Every thought, every description, every action, every emotion, it all has to be real. So I tell my students (and myself) to imagine that you’re writing a true story. It’s a story that happened to a friend of yours, and you’re telling your best friend about it over coffee. If there are any places in the story where your best friend would say, “What? No way? I don’t believe you. That couldn’t have happened!” or, “That doesn’t make sense. What are you talking about?” then you are not being authentic, and you’ve got some revising to do. Even with a picture book like Yuckiest, Stinkiest, where a valentine comes to life, the emotions and actions need to be authentic. The valentine needs to act like a real person who is terrified of expressing emotions, and Leon needs to be a believable boy who wants nothing more than to share his love with the girl of his dreams.

How do you balance your full-time writing job with not only marketing and teaching but also mothering three adolescents?!
I just make the commitment to do it. I try to write every day. Of course some days and weeks are harder to find the time than others, and I get frustrated when I don’t write as much as I want. But I remind myself that being a mom is my first priority, my first love, and such a privilege. In a minute, my kids will all be in college, so I might as well appreciate the chaos, laughter, and very full schedule in my life right now.

Can you describe your elation and sense of satisfaction when you first held the f & g’s (folded and gathered pages) of The Yuckiest, Stinkiest, Best Valentine Ever?
That was amazing, but the biggest thrill came before that when I saw a pdf of the whole book. I was blown away by Tedd Arnold’s hilarious and heartwarming illustrations. I’d been a fan of his since my kids were young and we had all fallen in love with his book, Parts. I could hardly believe he was illustrating my story! When I opened that pdf and saw his vibrant illustrations and Sunday-comic-style approach, tears sprung to my eyes because his art exceeded all my expectations, and I knew that the book would find the audience I had dreamed of all those years ago. 

Book Giveaway
Win an autographed copy of Brenda Ferber’s The Yuckiest, Stinkiest Best Valentine Ever! (Dial)

To enter our drawing, you must follow the TeachingAuthors blog. (If you’re not already a follower, you can sign up now in our sidebar to subscribe to our posts via email, Google Friend Connect, or Facebook Network blogs.)  

You may enter the contest one of two ways:
1) by posting a comment below OR
2) by sending an email to teachingauthors [at] gmail [dot] com with "Book Giveaway" in the subject line.

Whichever way you enter, you MUST:  (1) give us your first and last name  AND
2) tell us how you follow us (via email, Google Friend Connect, or Facebook Network blogs) .
3) If you enter via a comment, you MUST include a valid email address (formatted this way: youremail [at] gmail [dot] com) in your comment.  And JUST FOR Fun, share your favorite Candy Hearts Valentine inscription!
This contest is open only to followers who can provide a mailing address in the United States. Incomplete entries will be discarded. The entry deadline is 11 p.m. (CST) next Monday, January 21, 2013. We'll announce the winner on Wednesday, January 23. Good luck!

Friday, January 11, 2013

Inertia? Shoo!

Howdy, Campers!  Welcome...or welcome back to TeachingAuthors' cozy winter cabin!

"All things are possible until they are proved impossible--
and even the impossible may only be so, as of now." ~ Pearl Buck

First order of business...the winner of TeachingAuthors' first book giveaway of 2013 (see Carmela's January 2nd post) is Pam Courtney, who follows our blog via email.  She's won Luke Reynold's book, Keep Calm and Query On. Congratulations, Pam!

We TeachingAuthors have been talking about how to get back to writing after a break.

Jill's found it liberating to give herself the holidays off from writing...and then to stop fretting, schedule writing time and give herself permission to write dog doo (I'm paraphrasing here). Jeanne Marie  has found it useful to take a nap before leaping into her most productive writing hours of the day.

For me, there is something sneaky-guilty and oddly energizing about avoiding writing by, say, running a political campaign, taking care of my aging uncle or preparing for a class. I can defend the barricades in the name of the French Revolution if I'm thereby avoiding working on my picture book manuscript.

After the Revolution...or, less excitingly, after driving 92-year-old Uncle Davie to the doctor, my inertia sets in.

  Eli has graciously offered to demonstrate inertia for you:

I asked two friends in two different professions, how do you get back to work after the holidays?

They both blurted out "FlyLady!"  In this post, Fly Lady suggests setting a timer for 15 minutes and doing 15 minutes of WHATEVER (clear clutter, take out the trash,'s an idea: write).  

It's like breaking through the fear of writing by keeping a One-Minute Journal; I can do anything for one minute.

Another way I make writing a top priority is being accountable to a Writing Buddy.  Oh, and getting off the internet.  :-)

So, go on...get off the internet. Set a timer. Pick out a half-completed story or start a new one.  Start 2013 feeling that all things are possible.

And last but not least, thanks to Renee at No Water River for hosting Poetry Friday today!

Uh...Eli wanted to show you another position for inertia, for extra credit:

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Wednesday Writing Workout!

Greetings, all! Hope you enjoyed last week's inaugural writing workout, when we got to imagine a conversation with a favorite actor. Helped me learn why Mr. Ed, who supposedly was such a genius, was satisfied to spend his life standing in a stall waiting for Wilbur Post to come chew the fat....

This week, let's play with SETTING. A strong sense of place is vital to a good story. So how about trying one of my favorite exercises:  write of a specific place from your childhood that was special to you for some reason. Include as many sensory details as you can to help bring the memory to life. Don't strive for perfection; just get the memories down. Here's one of mine:

When I was little, my grandparents lived in a small town only five minutes away. Lucky for me, they didn't mind my staying overnight there whenever I felt the urge.

My favorite place in their house – especially in winter – was standing atop the black iron floor grate near one wall of their dining room. Designed in an intricate pattern of scrolls and squares just far enough apart to swallow a favorite marble, the thing must have been directly above the furnace, because when heat started rolling up out of it...well, a pair of fuzzy slippers was the only thing between my tender pink soles and a life-long branding. But, ah, those hot waves were heaven to a shivering, barely-awake kid who'd just rushed down the narrow, twisty stairs from the frigid upper room papered in faded pink carnations. I remember standing on that grate, fingers against the rough plaster wall behind me, smiling blissfully as my long flannel nightgown billowed around my chicken legs like a balloon swelling for takeoff. Let winter bluster around the corners and moan in the eaves! I was toasty to my earlobes, savoring the morning sounds:  Grandpa's grunts from the back porch as he struggled into his rubber boots, a frying pan clank-clunking in the kitchen sink as Grandma started breakfast dishes (I was a cold cereal girl), a distant metallic clatter signaling that the wondrous heat was about the end. Good thing, because that was always about the time a burning-plasic smell warned me that my slipper soles would be white goo if I didn't hop off and begin my day. And so I would.

Okay, now it's your turn! Close your eyes, and let yourself drift back to that favorite place.

P.S.  Have you entered our latest book giveaway contest? It ends tonight at 11 PM, so hurry!

Monday, January 7, 2013

Back To It

Happy Epiphany!  During this last weekend of my week-long work break, I've had a small epiphany of my own.  I told myself I'd get back to my novel, and I did.  Yay, me!  During my last long spate of novel work, I'd been bright enough to outline the manuscript chapter by chapter so that I'd have some big-picture sense when I returned to it.  What I was not bright enough to do was to give enough detail to understand where I was planning to go in the scene that I'd left mid-sentence.  Of course I managed to hash out something new (maybe better, maybe not), but gosh, I wish I could have just kept that momentum going.

Like Jill, I often find my enthusiasm for a project tempered by long delays due to my "work-for-hire" projects (e.g., my job, my kids, teaching).  I freely give myself permission to take a break, or I would lose my mind.  The effect, of course, has been far too little writing of my own in this last decade or so. 

I am not one to make New Year's resolutions, but I was struck by this article that a few friends recently shared on facebook:

Takeaway messages for me:
1) No more facebook -- not while writing.  No Words With Friends, no email, no news, no Internet.  Period!

2) While my last big epiphany was the importance of outlining, it is clear to me that I need to outline in much more detail.  This is what I already do in my job, and it is well known to be the most effective way of producing 5 hours of television per week (or even one hour of television per week).  I'm not sure why I didn't realize the appeal of this method sooner.  If I wrestle with the intricate details of plot first, it makes the actual writing process about a million times less onerous and time-consuming -- with a ton less deleting, too.  I don't have to be a slave to the outline, of course, but having it makes the act of sitting down to write feel infinitely less painful. 

3) I need to write during my productive time!  I have previously noted that this would be after 10 p.m., which is fortunately when my children are in bed.  Unfortunately, it is when I am now dog tired after rising at 5:30 [not my body's natural rising time -- at all].  New plan for the new year: brief evening nap, then rising and writing for 1 hour without Internet or other distraction. 

Wish me luck, as JoAnn would say.  And good luck to you all, too! -- Jeanne Marie

Reminder from Carmela: There's still time to enter our current book giveaway for a chance to win a copy of Keep Calm and Query On: Notes on Writing (and Living) with Hope (Divertir Publishing). See  last Wednesday's post for details. 

Friday, January 4, 2013

Getting back into the writing groove

For whatever reason – illness, a move or job change, family crises, or other circumstances beyond our control – most of us fall out of the writing habit at one time or another. And getting back into the groove can be tough. Confession:  Right now, I'm having a little trouble with it myself. Okay, a lot of trouble.

A few Decembers ago, I was chasing my tail, trying to steal writing time from the holiday-related hoopla on my calendar. But with all the cleaning and decorating, shopping and party planning, baking and visiting I wanted/needed to do, I felt really guilty every time I sat down to write. So I made what, at the time, felt like a drastic move:  After more than 10 years of keeping my nose firmly pressed to the grindstone, I gave myself permission to take December off from writing. Wow, was I a happier camper that holiday season (and those since). I could immerse myself in holiday prep/events without that constant nagging feeling that there was something else I should be doing (don't we drive ourselves crazy sometimes?!)

January-March have traditionally been my favorite writing months. And that month-long December break spring-boarded me into them, big time. I was raring to go. Outta my way! Lemme at the keyboard! I have a story to get to!

*sound of squealing brakes*

Not this year. Granted, it's only January 4, so I'm not panicking. But sadly, I'm just not feeling an urgency to get back to my writing. Maybe it's because the mg novel project I was enthused about a year ago got pushed to the back burner by a couple of work-for-hire projects. I've definitely lost momentum on that one. And it's a story I need to get back to, because I have a terrible if-I-don't-write-it-somebody-else-will feeling. But after a year of thinking about it only sporadically, I now have so many questions about my plans for the whole project that I'm doubting my ability to even pull off writing the thing. Ugh. That's not a great place to be.

So how am I going to regain that enthusiasm, retrain myself to get back into the writing habit? I've searched the internet for wisdom, and everything I've read boils down to these 3 steps:

1.  Stop fretting. Worrying about not writing is a time waster and certainly won't free you to create.

2.  Schedule writing time. I'm about as sharp as I'm going to get in the mornings. So right after my time on the treadmill, a quick shower, and breakfast, I'm heading to my office, where I will plop my rear into the chair and begin. I'll answer e-mails, check out the few blogs I follow (and maybe work on my own next post), then reread what I wrote the day before, which always jumps starts my mind.

3.  Give yourself permission to write (excuse me, Mother) crap. I don't know how, after writing for more than 16 years, I can STILL sometimes forget that writing is a process. Nobody sits down and bangs out The Perfect Story on the first try. Revision has always been my favorite part of writing. If I have to remind myself of that every day by taping a big note to my computer screen, I will.

My next post won't be until later in the month, but I'll let you know how I'm doing. Looking forward to a productive month!

*knocks wood*
*crosses fingers*
*rubs the troll*


Have you entered our current book giveaway? You won't want to miss this one. Read the entry details in Carmela's Wednesday's post.

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

New Feature for the New Year: Wednesday Writing Workout, plus a Book Giveaway!

Happy New Year, Everyone!

I hope you're all rested and refreshed and ready to plunge ahead into 2013.

While on our winter blogging break, we TeachingAuthors were busy working behind-the-scenes, planning a new weekly feature. If you're a regular reader of this blog, you know we often include Writing Workouts with our posts. As it says in our sidebar: "We invite classroom teachers to use these writing exercises with their students, and adult writers to try them on their own." Many of you have told us that you especially appreciate and look forward to our Writing Workouts. So we've decided to pull them out of our regular posts and create a separate feature: the Wednesday Writing Workout (or WWW)!

As you can see, we've added some text but kept our former Writing Workout image--a set of barbells and a ribbon with a medal. The logo represents how everyone who works out with us is a winner! 
Note: if you're a blogger and you'd like to share your response to the WWW in your own blog post, feel free to copy and paste the above logo onto your own blog. We ask only that you link back to our corresponding WWW post. 

While continuing with our regular posts on Mondays and Fridays, we'll devote Wednesdays to Wednesday Writing Workouts. Each WWW will be written by one of the TeachingAuthors or, as is the case today, by a Mystery Guest TeachingAuthor.

To introduce the new feature and celebrate a new year, we're also having a Book Giveaway! Every writer and writing teacher will want a copy of our giveaway book on his/her reference/inspiration shelf: Keep Calm and Query On: Notes on Writing (and Living) with Hope (Divertir Publishing). And the book happens to be written by today's Mystery Guest TeachingAuthor.

I'll share our Mystery Guest TeachingAuthor's bio before giving you his Writing Workout. See if you can guess the author's identity before I reveal it below. (No fair looking up the MGTA's books online before that!)

Today's MGTA has the kind of resume our readers love: A former teacher of grades 7 through 12 and a writer of children’s fiction, he’s the editor of the forthcoming book for teens and tweens, Break These Rules (Chicago Press). He co-edited Burned In: Fueling the Fire to Teach (Teachers College Press) and Dedicated to the People of Darfur: Writings on Fear, Risk, and Hope (Rutgers University Press). Teachers College Press also published his latest book for teachers, A Call to Creativity: Writing, Reading, and Inspiring Students in an Age of Standardization.

Does this bio sound familiar? That's because Esther reviewed Keep Calm and Query On back in October. She gave the book a big Thumbs Up!

Before I reveal the identity of our Mystery Guest TeachingAuthor, here's his TERRIFIC Wednesday Writing Workout:  

Give Logic a Lollipop:
I am one of those people who believes that we’re all still children, really. Whether we’re 32 or 64 or 96, there’s something innate in us that stubbornly refuses to grow up no matter how much coffee we drink (in my case, a lot), how much we worry about paying bills, or how professional we look in our formal attire.  The kid-like parts of us are often covered by layer after layer of logic. While the growth of logic is hugely beneficial to things like paying our bills, walking out of the house with matching socks and a straight tie or proper dress, and generally being responsible, an area that is bleached of vitality by our intense focus on forcing everything to make sense is our writing life.

This Wednesday Writing Workout, then, asks us to momentarily allow logic to sit by himself on the far bench, way over on the other side of the room. Give Logic a lollipop and the latest Time magazine, and then sneak off to your writing desk and try something illogical to fuel those writing muscles.

1.    Visualize your favorite film actor or actress.
2.    Close your eyes, and continue visualizing that person, and then reach out—literally!—your hand and shake their hand, up and down. Then smile knowingly (eyes still closed) like you and your favorite film star are sharing some inside joke even though you haven’t spoken any words yet. You’re that tight.
3.    Open your mouth (literally!) and speak the very first words that come to mind.
4.    Now open your eyes, pick up your pen or open up a Word document on your computer and write your name, then a colon, then the words you’ve just said.
5.    Then write the actor’s / actress’s name, a colon, and his / her response.
6.    Continue writing your ‘scene’ with dialogue that emerges organically and no matter how seemingly ridiculous it is, just follow the exercise through.
7.    Every once in a while, try to insert a small note on the setting—the weather outside, what you’re eating (lollipops?), what noises occur in the background, and anything else that creates the mood of your conversation.
8.    Try to continue this scene for at least two pages. This is a perfect opportunity to work our writing muscles by putting ourselves into a situation that allows the kid-like part of us to trump the adult part of us.

So often, as writers, we can think in terms of productivity and progress. And these are both great things in the life of a writer. Hey, who doesn’t want to add a few more pages to that novel, or bang out a few more notes for that picture book? But sometimes, persistent focus on productivity and progress have the side effect of hiding us from the kid-like parts of our writer selves, that are concerned—almost entirely—with joy, engagement, emotion, quirks, and creativity.

My seven-year-old nephew loves writing stories. When I talk with him about what he’s writing, he doesn’t give me the latest page count or the stats on which publishers have checked out his work yet. Even while I sometimes focus too much on those things, I try to shake my head and heart to return to what matters: the creation itself. The sheer beauty, hilarity, pain, joy, and love of it. And this process must, by definition, involve flights of fancy and the decision to leave logic a little lonely at times.

Today, for your Wednesday Writing Workout, craft this scene and let the kid in you lead the way. I promise you’ll discover pearls that—if nothing else—will make you laugh, and possibly even provide a kernel for a louder pop later.

* * *
What a wonderful Wednesday Writing Workout to inaugurate our new feature! And now, finally, it's time for the big reveal. Today's Mystery Guest TeachingAuthor is (drum roll please):

Luke Reynolds!
Special thanks to Luke for helping to launch our new feature! Readers, if you'd like to know more about Luke, see his website. I also encourage you to check out his blog, Intersections: One Writer's Journey Through Parenting, Living Abroad, Faith, Publishing, and Social Justice.

As I mentioned above, Luke is the author of Keep Calm and Query On: Notes on Writing (and Living) with Hope (Divertir Publishing). If you read Esther's review, you're going to want to enter our drawing for a chance to win your very own copy.

To enter our drawing, you must follow the TeachingAuthors blog.  (If you’re not already a follower, you can sign up now in our sidebar to subscribe to our posts via email, Google Friend Connect, or Facebook Network blogs.)

You may enter the contest one of two ways:
1) by posting a comment below OR
2) by sending an email to teachingauthors [at] gmail [dot] com with "Book Giveaway" in the subject line.

Whichever way you enter, you MUST:
1) Just for fun, tell us whether you guessed Luke's identity before the big reveal. We'd also love your feedback on his Writing Workout and/or what you think of our new Wednesday Writing Workout feature.
2) give us your first and last name, AND
3) tell us how you follow us (via email, Google Friend Connect, or Facebook Network blogs) .
4) If you enter via a comment, you MUST include a valid email address (formatted this way:  youremail [at] gmail [dot] com) in your comment.

This contest is open only to followers who can provide a mailing address in the United States. Incomplete entries will be discarded. The entry deadline is 11 p.m. (CST) next Wednesday, Jan. 9, 2013. We'll announce the winner on Friday, Jan. 11. Good luck!

Happy writing, and happy 2013!